On World Water Day, it is worth sharing the story of Mangala Maruti Waghmare, who is technically a marginal farmer (practicing agriculture in less than 5 acres) in possession of only half an acre land in Latur district. But with as little land as it is, she has been able to earn enough to support her son’s B Tech education, with a family of six members to manage.
What Waghmare has been able to achieve, is an unbelievable feat in itself and here’s why.
In India, out of 121 million agricultural holdings, 99 million are with small and marginal farmers, with a land share of just 44% and a farmer population share of 87%.
More than 72% of farmers who commit suicide have less than two hectares of land, latest data on farmer suicides compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show. Of the total 16,606 suicides, 87 per cent were found to be on account of debt and 76 per cent by small farmers with landholdings less than 5 acres.
So, how did Mangala buck this trend and how has she inspired other minimal farmers to do so too?
While most other farmers were engaged in chemical farming and deeply entrenched in the vicious cycle it perpetuates that of debt and soil’s incremental dependence on chemical fertilizers, organic farming was not cheap to practice either.
Was there a way, somewhere in between the two?
Mangala took to natural farming, (which is different from organic farming in that, in natural farming, the inputs are prepared at home at zero cost). The natural farming practices rely on utilizing natural intelligence of the soil and seed system, which really costs nothing. This saving on input costs, without compromising on the yield, becomes very valuable for minimal and marginal farmers who are financially burdened already. Mangala took training in multi-cropping, agroforestry, social forestry and climate resilient farming and seeding practices as part of natural farming.
Earlier with chemical farming, 75% of her earning would be spent on meeting input related expenses and the remaining 25% would be set aside for expenses at home. 25% would include her sons’ education, and medical expenses. They would be left with no savings. And it was not enough. So the next option would be to go for loans to meet farming expenses.
But last summer, she grew tomatoes in 0.35 acre using various natural farming techniques like stacking, and making eco-friendly fertilizers and pesticides largely made using the urine or the dung of the indigenous cows, mixed with the leaves of specific high-nutrient plants. She prepared her own seedlings, bio-fertilizers and other agricultural inputs. She timed the plantation to perfection ensuring that the crop would reach the market when there is no other supply (peak summer). She made a profit of Rs. 60,000 in 3 months by selling the produce in the Rabi crop. After learning and practicing multi-cropping pattern, she would sow tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, chili, onions, and garlic.
Today, Mangala has trained more than a hundred women in natural farming on one acre model that she learned from Mahadev Gomare, director of Art of Living social projects in Maharashtra, whose team has been working to teach natural farming practices to the marginal and minimal farmers in India and simultaneously solving a major bottleneck for farmers-water scarcity-by reviving rivers like Latur’s Manjara river, and thus making efforts to mitigate the long standing water crisis in Latur district. The project was initiated by a community fund raising drive involving all stakeholders including the residents in villagers across Latur district.
Trainers like Mahadev Gomare sensitize farmers on the importance of natural farming techniques for soil and water conservation, drought mitigation and sustainable livelihood. Natural farming and drip irrigation along with multi-cropping instead of flood irrigation, are some of the techniques taught, keeping water conservation in mind.
Mangala moved to natural farming when her son fell severely ill from eating the chemical laden food she grew in her own land several years ago. She observed, this was happening to many other farmers too. “If I cannot eat it, I will not grow it,” Mangala said.
She is not the only one. More than 10,000 farmers in Latur district have received this training that has enabled them to significantly reduce their input cost while keeping the yield same, keeping the soil sustainable. Now farmers are able to grow 2 crops, something that was unthinkable even a couple of years back.
The idea behind natural farming multi cropping model that Mangala has been training with is to make sure the farmer receives income not just today, but even tomorrow and in future. In other words,, this model will act as a pension plan.
She also formed a women farmer group where she teaches the 1 acre natural farming model and thereby how to be self-sufficient.
Maruti Waghmare, Mangala’s husband says, “It is normal if a farmer with 10 acres of land sends his crops to Bombay because of the produce, but a farmer with half acre of land in a small village is able to send their produce to Bombay, and that is an achievement.”